Kyrgyzstan: Bishkek Announces “Terrorist” Haul
A anti-terrorist operation in southern Kyrgyzstan has bagged at least 10 suspected members of the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU), a terrorist organization, who, officials believe, had intended to set off a series of bomb blasts across the region, local media reported on October 10. The ongoing operation follows a weekend minibus hijacking by an alleged terrorist, who was shot dead by special forces snipers at a roadblock into Osh on October 8. Kyrgyzstan is gearing up for presidential elections later this month. The latest trouble in the unsteady south will offer authorities a reason to increase security checks and tighten control across the region, scene of ethnic violence last year between Kyrgyz and minority Uzbeks that killed over 400 and left the two communities deeply distrustful of each other. Bishkek may have other motivations for a bolder security posture, however. Since the bloody ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev in April 2010, the mostly northern politicians who took over have had trouble consolidating authority in the south, leading many observers to fear the upcoming election could exacerbate regional divisions. The two leading contenders represent the north and south, respectively.Keneshbek Dushebayev, the head of the State Committee on National Security (GKNB), announced the IJU link, noting detainees included both Kyrgyz and Uzbeks. But Dushebayev routinely makes questionable statements about terrorist threats. Earlier this year, he warned that hundreds of young Uzbeks from Kyrgyzstan were training at terrorist camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan. More than a month later, his deputy said there was no evidence for the claim, but the fear mongering bode poorly for ethnic relations in the country. Dushebayev also blamed Islamic extremists for the ethnic violence, although international inquiries found no confirmation of this. He and other Kyrgyz officials tend to roll out Islamist “terrorists” as suspects in response to just about any disturbance – real or imagined. Dushebayev said eight terrorist organizations are attempting to overthrow Kyrgyzstan’s constitutional order and establish a caliphate. Uzbeks are widely considered more religious than Kyrgyz. So human rights observers fear “terrorists,” in the parlance of Kyrgyz officials, is often confounded with “Uzbeks.” Certainly, the ethnic minority continues to suffer the brunt of official brutality across the south, where deaths in police custody have become ordinary. An Osh-based human rights activist has slammed authorities for their handling of the weekend operation, which focused on the predominantly Uzbek village of Nariman.
David Trilling is Eurasianet’s managing editor.